Four people killed, thousands evacuated as floods hit southeast Spain

By Jon Nazca and Marco Trujillo

PILAR DE LA HORADADA/ORIHUELA, Spain (Reuters) – Four people have been killed and over 1,500 evacuated in two days of torrential rains in southeastern Spain, with many roads, train networks and an airport closed on Friday and emergency services rescuing people stuck in flooded highway tunnels.

Floods swept away cars and debris in the regions of Valencia, Murcia and eastern Andalucia. Motorway tunnels in some areas were flooded almost up to the tunnel lighting, with some vehicles partly or fully submerged.

A man was found dead in Granada province on Friday after his car was swept off a motorway and another died in Almeria after trying to drive through a flooded tunnel, rescue services said. Two siblings died on Thursday when torrential rain dragged their car away.

A total of 74 roads were closed, as was the whole Murcia regional railway service, and the Murcia airport. The railway link between Alicante and Spain’s two main cities – Madrid and Barcelona – was shut, acting Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska said.

Some affected areas saw record daily rainfall for the month of September.

“The situation is critical, all the municipality is full of water,” Mario Cervera, mayor of the town of Alcazares, one of the most affected in Murcia, told Spain’s state-run TVE channel.

Rescue workers were using a helicopter and boats in various areas, he said.

“This man was holding onto a traffic sign… the officer and I jumped to take him out,” one emergency worker told Reuters.

In addition to people already evacuated, some 2,000 residents of the town of Santomera in Murcia were being removed from their homes due to a planned controlled release from a local dam to avoid its overflowing, the interior minister said.

“The forecasts do not point to a worsening of the situation, but we have to be cautious,” he told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting before heading to the affected areas.

The rain appeared to be easing but rivers were still at risk of overflowing, including the Segura, which has already flooded the town of Orihuela in Alicante and could flood in the city of Murcia, the local water management authority said.

Authorities have recommended citizens stay at home in the affected areas and avoid using their cars.

Tourists were left stranded in Alicante airport as many flights were delayed or canceled.

“We’ve been in the queue here four or five hours, it’s very difficult to get to the toilet, impossible to get anything to eat,” Haydn Harding, a 78-year old diabetic tourist from Northern Ireland, said at the airport.

(Additional reporting by Jose Rodriguez, Paola Luelmo, Emma Pinedo and Jesus Aguado; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Frances Kerry)

India floods kill more than 270, displace one million

FILE PHOTO: Rescuers remove debris as they search for victims of a landslide caused by torrential monsoon rains in Meppadi in Wayanad district in the southern Indian state of Kerala, India, August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

By Gopakumar Warrier and Rajendra Jadhav

BENGALURU/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Floods and landslides have killed more than 270 people in India this month, displaced one million and inundated thousands of homes across six states, authorities said on Wednesday after two weeks of heavy monsoon rains.

The rains from June to September are a lifeline for rural India, delivering some 70% of the country’s rainfall, but they also cause death and destruction each year.

The southern states of Kerala and Karnataka, and Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west, were among the hardest hit by floods that washed away thousands of hectares of summer-sown crops and damaged roads and rail lines.

At least 95 people were killed and more than 50 are missing in Kerala, where heavy rainfall triggered dozens of landslides last week and trapped more than 100 people.

About 190,000 people are still living in relief camps in the state, said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, but he added some people are returning home as floodwaters recede.

In neighboring Karnataka, home to the technology hub Bengaluru, 54 people died and 15 are missing after rivers burst their banks when authorities released water from dams.

Nearly 700,000 people have been evacuated in the state.

Heavy rainfall is expected in parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, as well as the central state of Madhya Pradesh, in the next two days, weather officials said.

In Maharashtra, which includes the financial capital Mumbai, 48 people died but floodwaters are receding, said a state official.

“We are now trying to restore electricity and drinking water supplies,” he said.

In Madhya Pradesh, the biggest producer of soybeans, heavy rains killed 32 people and damaged crops, authorities said.

In Gujarat, 31 people died in rain-related incidents, while landslides killed nearly a dozen people in the northern hilly state of Uttarakhand.

(Reporting by Gopakumar Warrier and Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Euan Rocha and Darren Schuettler)

Floods in India kill 33, displace thousands

Members of a rescue team wade through a water-logged area during heavy rains on the outskirts of Kochi in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 8, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V

By Rajendra Jadhav and Derek Francis

MUMBAI/BENGALURU (Reuters) – Floods brought by heavy rains and overflowing rivers across large swathes of western and southern India have killed at least 33 people and forced the evacuation of 180,000 from their homes, officials said on Thursday.

Seasonal monsoon rains from June to September cause deaths and mass displacement across South Asia every year, but they deliver more than 70% of India’s rainfall, crucial for farm output and economic growth.

The tally of dead in the floods was 25 in the western state of Maharashtra by Thursday, officials said, while government data in the neighboring southern state of Karnataka showed eight dead.

Rivers burst their banks in some parts of Maharashtra after authorities released water from dams brimming with as much as 670 mm (26.4 inches) of rain received in a week.

“If we get more rainfall, then we have no option but to release water in rivers,” said administrative official Deepak Mhaisekar, adding that many reservoirs around the state’s industrial city of Pune were full.

A boat full of villagers trying to escape the floods capsized on Thursday, killing at least 9 people, with rescuers searching for three or four still feared missing, he added.

Thousands of trucks were stuck on a national highway linking the financial capital of Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, as waters submerged the road in some places, Mhaisekar said.

In Karnataka, officials said some major reservoirs were nearly full, and warned that nearby villages could be hit by large discharges of water.

“We have sought help from the central government to rescue any people who may get stranded because of the floods,” Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa told media.

Temples and electric poles were underwater as the floods flowed unabated, in video images posted by a journalist in a northern district of Karnataka.

Weather officials have forecast heavy rain in the region, including the nearby states of Kerala and Goa, over the next three to five days.

Kerala weather officials called a “red alert” in four districts they saw at risk of receiving more than 200 mm (8 inches) of rain on Thursday.

Schools and colleges in many places have been shut since Monday and are unlikely to open this week, authorities have said.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai and Derek Francis in Bengaluru; Editing by Euan Rocha and Hugh Lawson)

Floods stall fertilizer shipments in latest blow to U.S. farmers

FILE PHOTO: The contents of grain silos which burst from flood damage are shown in Fremont County Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

By Karl Plume

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Farm supplier CHS Inc has dozens of loaded barges trapped on the flood-swollen Mississippi River near St. Louis – about 500 miles from the company’s two Minnesota distribution hubs.

The barges can’t move – or get crucial nutrients to corn farmers for the spring planting season – because river locks on the main U.S. artery for grain and fertilizer have been shuttered for weeks. High water presents a hazard for boats, barges and lock equipment.

Railroads have also been plagued by delays from winter weather and flooding in the western Midwest, further disrupting agricultural supply chains in the nation’s breadbasket.

FILE PHOTO: Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in southwestern Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in southwestern Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

The transportation woes are the latest headache for a U.S. agricultural sector reeling from years of slumping profits and the U.S.-China trade war, and they threaten to cut the number of acres of corn and wheat that can be planted this year.

The shipping delays follow months of bad weather in the rural Midwest, including a “bomb cyclone” that flooded at least 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of farmland last month and a record-breaking April snow storm.

“Our barges are a long way from where we need them in the upper Midwest,” said Gary Halvorson, senior vice president of agronomy at CHS. “We really don’t think that any rail line will be at their preferred service rate until summer.”

Agricultural retailers rely on barges and trains to resupply distribution warehouses across the farm belt. But river flooding has delayed the seasonal reopening of the northern reaches of the Mississippi River to barge traffic. The latest National Weather Service river forecasts suggest one of the river’s southernmost locks could remain closed until at least the first week of May.

FALLING PROFITS, PRODUCTION

Reduced or poorly timed fertilizer applications can hurt yields, potentially denting this year’s U.S. farm profits, which are already predicted to be about half of their 2013 peak, according to the latest U.S. government forecast. Delayed shipments can also mean lost sales for farm suppliers and higher demurrage penalties, or late-return charges, on stalled barges and rail cars.

CHS, one of the largest publicly traded U.S. agriculture suppliers, said this month cited poor weather as a key reason for a $8.9 million drop in agricultural profits during its fiscal second quarter.

Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co said severe weather and flooding would cut its first-quarter profit by $50 million to $60 million while DowDuPont said flooding would slash first-quarter profits in its agriculture division by 25 percent.

Fertilizer producers such as Nutrien Ltd, Mosaic Co and Yara International also lost sales due to bad weather in the fourth quarter of last year and first quarter of this year. Mosaic announced last month that it would cut U.S. phosphate fertilizer production by 300,000 tonnes for the spring season due to poor weather and large inventories left over from the fall.

Farm retailers such as CHS and privately held Growmark may see additional losses through the spring season as the tighter planting window limits the application services they provide, according to CoBank analyst Will Secor.

SCRAMBLING TO PROTECT CROP YIELDS

Farmers are not expected to skip nitrogen fertilizer applications entirely, which would cause yields to drop by about half, according to Purdue University agronomist Bob Nielsen. But higher nutrient costs could have growers applying less-than-optimal amounts.

Some farmers could shift from corn to soybeans, which can be planted later and require fewer fertilizer applications. But soybeans will continue to face uncertain demand as long as the U.S. and top buyer China remain locked in a trade war.

“Right now my plan is to plant more corn because the price of beans is so low,” said Don Batie, a farmer near Lexington, Nebraska.

The weather problems started last autumn, a period when some farmers treat fields after harvesting in preparation for the following spring. But wet weather prevented fall fertilizer applications, and an exceptionally snowy winter in many areas slowed or halted winter field work.

More recent storms have threatened to narrow the limited spring window for field treatments.

“When you add to it this re-supply constraint of not being able to move barges up the Mississippi, it puts us in a precarious position,” said Kreg Ruhl, manager for crop nutrients division at Growmark, the country’s third-largest agriculture retailer in terms of revenue.

PRICES RISING

Retail fertilizer prices have started rising in parts of the Midwest and are likely to rise further as local supplies are depleted and retailers scramble to resupply.

In Iowa, the top U.S. corn producing state, the price of the common fertilizer urea was up 20 percent in late April from a year ago, and anhydrous ammonia was up 27 percent. Both hit their highest early spring levels in three years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Without timely barge deliveries, CHS will lean on its rail network that brings imported supplies from Galveston, Texas, to any of the 29 rail hubs it owns in places like Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Marshall, Minnesota; and Minot, North Dakota.

Higher U.S. fertilizer prices and strong demand from other countries could help producers such as Nutrien, Mosaic and Yara recover some recent profit weakness in upcoming quarters.

For farmers and fertilizer retailers, however, uncertain fertilizer deliveries will likely weigh on agricultural markets through the planting season.

“We’re doing our very best to make sure that our retail network is supplied,” said CHS’s Halvorson.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago Editing by Brian Thevenot and Caroline Stauffer)

After Cyclone Idai, thousands still cut off, many more in need: aid agencies

FILE PHOTO: Women wait to receive aid at a camp for the people displaced in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in John Segredo near Beira, Mozambique March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – One month after Cyclone Idai tore through southern Africa bringing devastating floods, aid agencies say the situation remains critical with some communities in worst-hit Mozambique only just being reached with aid.

The storm made landfall in Mozambique on March 14, flattening the port city of Beira before moving inland to batter Malawi and Zimbabwe.

It heaped rain on the region’s highlands that then flowed back into Mozambique, leaving an area the size of Luxembourg under water. More than 1,000 people died across the three countries, and the World Bank has estimated more than $2 billion will be needed for them to recover.

FILE PHOTO: Survivors of cyclone Idai arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

Over the weekend, aid agencies said thousands of people were still completely cut off and warned of the potential for a catastrophic hunger crisis to take hold, especially as aid appeals went largely underfunded.

Dorothy Sang, Oxfam’s humanitarian advocacy manager, said an aid drop was being planned for an isolated area where just last week 2,000 people were found for the first time since the storm. They had been surviving on coconuts, dates and small fish they could catch.

Oxfam estimates there are 4,000 people still cut off. Sang added that while often these weren’t the worst-hit by the disaster, they were already living in chronic poverty and now face huge challenges to survive.

“They risk becoming utterly forgotten,” she said.

On Sunday, Care International said the destruction of crops would compound existing food security problems across the region, and called on donors to find additional funds for the response.

Mozambique’s $337 million humanitarian response plan, largely made up of an appeal for $281 million after the cyclone hit, remained only 23 percent funded on Monday.

The United Nations has also requested $294 million for Zimbabwe, an appeal currently 11 percent funded. The government has separately asked for $613 million to help with the humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, U.N. children’s agency Unicef warned at least 1.6 million children need some kind of urgent assistance, from healthcare to education, across all three countries. Save the Children also said many are traumatized after witnessing the death and destruction wrought by the storm.

Machiel Pouw, Save the Children’s response team leader, said children and their families needed long-term help to recover.

“After a disaster of this scale, the world must not look away.”

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

U.S. disaster aid won’t cover crops drowned by Midwest floods

The contents of a grain silo which burst from flood damage is shown in Crescent, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

By Tom Polansek

MALVERN, Iowa (Reuters) – The Black Hawk military helicopter flew over Iowa, giving a senior U.S. agriculture official and U.S. senator an eyeful of the flood damage below, where yellow corn from ruptured metal silos spilled out into the muddy water.

And there’s nothing the U.S. government can do about the millions of bushels of damaged crops here under current laws or disaster-aid programs, U.S. Agriculture Under Secretary Bill Northey told a Reuters reporter who joined the flight.

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey speak before boarding a helicopter to view flood damage, in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey speak before boarding a helicopter to view flood damage, in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

The USDA has no mechanism to compensate farmers for damaged crops in storage, Northey said, a problem never before seen on this scale. That’s in part because U.S. farmers have never stored so much of their harvests, after years of oversupplied markets, low prices and the latest blow of lost sales from the U.S. trade war with China – previously their biggest buyer of soybean exports.

The USDA last year made $12 billion in aid available to farmers who suffered trade-war losses, without needing Congressional approval. The agency has separate programs that partially cover losses from cattle killed in natural disasters, compensate farmers who cannot plant crops due to weather, and help them remove debris left in fields after floods.

But it has no program to cover the catastrophic and largely uninsured stored-crop losses from the widespread flooding, triggered by the “bomb cyclone” that hit the region in mid-March. Congress would have to pass legislation to address the harvests lost in the storm, according to Northey and a USDA statement to Reuters.

Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in Percival, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in Percival, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

“It’s not traditionally been covered,” he said. “But we’ve not usually had as many losses.”

Indigo Ag, an agriculture technology company, identified 832 on-farm storage bins within flooded Midwest areas. They hold an estimated 5 million to 10 million bushels of corn and soybeans – worth between $17.3 million to $34.6 million – that could have been damaged in the floods, the company told Reuters.

Across the United States, farmers held soybean stocks of 2.716 billion bushels as of March 1, the largest on record for the time period, the USDA said on Friday. Corn stocks were the third-largest on record.

Some Congress members have expressed interest in pursuing legislation to provide aid for damaged crops in storage, Northey said. But passing legislation could require a lengthy political process in the face of an urgent disaster, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley told farmers at a meeting in Malvern, Iowa.

“If we have to pass a bill to do it, I hate to tell you how long that takes,” said the senator from Iowa, who joined Northey on the helicopter tour.

With farm incomes declining for years before the flood, many farmers had planned to sell their grain in storage for money to live, pay their taxes or finance operations, including planting this spring.

The contents of grain silos which burst from flood damage are shown in Fremont County Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

The contents of grain silos which burst from flood damage are shown in Fremont County Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

THROWING AWAY CROPS

From the helicopter, piloted by National Guard members, officials surveyed miles of flooded fields in Iowa, littered with lawn chairs, fuel tanks, furniture, tires and other flood debris.

Farmers will have to destroy any grains that were contaminated by floodwater, which could also prevent some growers from planting oversaturated fields.

Near Crescent, Iowa, farmer Don Rief said the flood damaged more than 60,000 bushels of his grain, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. He tried to move the crops before the flood, but dirt roads were too soft from the storm to support trucks.

“We were just hurrying like hell,” Rief said. “Hopefully USDA will come in and minimize some of the damage.”

The USDA does not have a program that covers flood-damaged grain because farmers have typically received more advance notice of rising waters, allowing them to move crops and limit losses, said Tom Vilsack, who ran the agency under former President Barack Obama.

In this case, floods inundated fields quickly after multiple levees failed when rain and melting snow filled the Missouri River and other waterways. The frozen ground was unable to soak up the water.

Near Percival, Iowa, railroad tracks leading up to a grain facility were flooded and broken. A Deere Co dealership, Wendy’s restaurant, Motel 6 and gas station nearby were also underwater, along with homes, cars and farm equipment.

Some farmers moved machinery such as tractors on to highways to keep it out of the path of the floods. The equipment was still parked there during the flyover on Friday.

DISASTER RELIEF ‘GAP’

About 416,000 acres of cropland across six counties in Iowa were flooded, said Amanda De Jong, state executive director for the USDA Iowa Farm Service Agency.

Of that, about 309,000 acres will be eligible for the federal program that helps farmers and ranchers remove debris left by natural disasters on farmlands, De Jong said last week. She estimated the program would need about $34 million to clean up the fields.

Iowa’s agriculture secretary Mike Naig said the U.S. government also should help compensate farmers for some of the grain that was damaged.

“This is clearly a gap that we think needs to be addressed,” said Naig, who accompanied Grassley and Northey in the chopper.

Time is short for a solution, said Carol Vinton, supervisor of Mills County, Iowa, one of the state’s two most heavily damaged counties.

Vinton said she was getting calls from farmers whose grain was damaged and are worried about making good on previously signed contracts to deliver those crops to elevators.

The USDA wants to do everything it can to help farmers hurt by the disaster, Northey said.

“They spent all last year raising that crop, putting it in the bin and they maybe already have it marketed,” he said. “And now they’re going to have to spend time just to get rid of it – just to clean the place up.”

(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Malvern, Iowa. Additional reporting by Mark Weinraub in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Brian Thevenot)

After devastating flooding, U.S. Midwest farms need more than ‘paper towels’ to recover

A combination of aerial photos show the farm of Richard Oswald near Langdon, Missouri after flooding March 20, 2019 and in the fall of 2018 at right. Courtesy of Richard Oswald/Handout via REUTERS.

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Missouri farmer Richard Oswald needs a lot of help to recover from flooding that left his home and farm looking like a manmade island in an inland sea.

Relief groups are giving tetanus shots and handing out free meals and cleaning supplies near his farm in the Langdon-Rock Port area, about 100 miles (161 km) northwest of Kansas City. But what Oswald really needs is money.

Hit by the worst flooding in living memory, he and thousands of other farmers along the Missouri River will each require hundreds of thousands of dollars in disaster funds or loans to start over.

“The typical response on flood relief is groups like the Red Cross show up with paper towels and rubber gloves and scrub buckets,” said Oswald, 69, who does not expect to be able to get to his home or land for weeks. “The biggest thing farmers need is cash, or ways to access funds.”

‘BOUNCE BACK’

Slammed by a trade war and low commodity prices, Midwest family farms have been in the red and in decline for the last five years. The number of U.S farms fell by 100,000 between 2010 and 2017, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.

Thousands more will now go under without emergency financial support for flooding, pummeling heartland economies almost entirely dependent on agriculture, farmers and aid groups said.

It is a call federal and state agencies, as well as non-governmental and faith-based relief groups are answering.

President Donald Trump has approved disaster declarations for Nebraska and Iowa, making federal disaster funding available in flood-hit areas. Missouri Governor Mike Parson declared a state of emergency, paving the way for similar actions in his state.

“I know we aim for bringing everything back up to where it was,” said Rosalynn Days-Austin, a USDA emergency coordinator helping direct Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) efforts in flood-affected areas. “Sometimes that’s not always possible, for a variety of reasons, but the goal is definitely to help them bounce back from their loss.”

CASH PREFERRED

Relief groups like Farm Aid are tending to the immediate needs of farmers, distributing tens of thousands of dollars in “emergency grants” – $500 gifts from cash donations that help families pay for things like groceries. After that, the group and its partners advise farming families on how to access federal disaster funds they hope are coming soon.

“What we’re hearing, because of the snowpack and rain and the wet ground, is that farmers are going to be dealing with this throughout the spring. So we’re in it for the long haul,” said Jennifer Fahy, a spokeswoman for the group established by country singer and activist Willie Nelson.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is coordinating a long-term response to get displaced families housed, navigate the red tape of insurance companies and federal agencies and tend to the mental health needs of people who have suffered extreme trauma, said Bishop Brian Maas.

“We have national partners and coalitions within the state,” said Maas, who is asking people to hold off donating more material goods, for now. “There will be stresses because we’ve not done anything of this magnitude.

“Now we have mountains of cleaning supplies and so forth that can’t be used,” Maas said, appealing to people to get back in touch in a month to see how they can donate then. “Cash is the most flexible way to respond.”

‘FEMA IS WORTHLESS’

Another immediate need is feed for livestock.

Relief organization Farm Rescue is collecting donations of hay in the Dakotas and trucking it to farmers whose cattle are starving after their feed stands were submerged in floodwater.

“I don’t know of anything this widespread that has ever affected so many people in our service area,” said Dan Erdmann, a spokesman for the group which helps family farms get through crises ranging from natural disasters to medical emergencies.

Farmworkers, some of them undocumented and legal migrants, have been hit hard. Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska is looking at housing assistance for displaced people who previously paid around $300 a month rent and now face rents triple that due to a dearth in properties, said Stacy Martin, chief executive of the social services charity.

While relief groups tend to urgent needs, farmers like Scott Olson say more federal relief money is needed at a time when low crop prices and high debt levels are limiting farmers’ access to credit. He is counting on a farm relief bill in Congress for extra disaster compensation after he successfully lobbied in Washington for similar funds following 2011 flooding.

“Flood insurance isn’t going to cover this worth a darn. FEMA is worthless,” said Olson, who farms 3,000 acres near Tekamah, Nebraska and runs a farm equipment business. “They don’t have any money, nobody has any money.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

Hunger, disease stalk Africa cyclone survivors, U.N. sees 1.7 million affected

Survivors of Cyclone Idai, listen to a volunteer from Mozambique Red Cross, after arriving to an evacuation centre in Beira, Mozambique, March 21, 2019. Denis Onyodi/Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre/Handout via REUTERS

By Emma Rumney

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of people scrambled for shelter, food and water across a swathe of southern Africa on Friday after a cyclone killed hundreds and swept away homes and roads, testing relief efforts for survivors facing a growing risk of cholera.

Cyclone Idai battered Beira, a low-lying port city of 500,000 residents, with strong winds and torrential rains last week, before moving inland to neighboring Zimbabwe, where it flattened homes and flooded communities, and Malawi.

Idai killed 242 people in Mozambique and 259 in Zimbabwe, and numbers were expected to rise, relief agencies said. In Malawi, 56 died in heavy rains before the onset of Idai.

As survivors gathered in informal camps and health officials warned of growing danger from measles and cholera, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said the situation on the ground was critical with no electricity or running water.

“Hundreds of thousands of children need immediate help” she said, estimating 1.7 million people were affected by the storm.

Around 45 km (28 miles) west of Beira, in Guara Guara village, the government set up a makeshift camp for people rescued nearby, with little water and no toilets.

Most people were outside in blazing sun, or on patches of shade cast by trees. At a nearby school, elderly women curled up on their side on the dirt floor, amongst bits of rubble.

“The help is coming, but it’s coming very slowly,” said Esther Zinge, 60, from near the town of Buzi, adding that what did arrive had to be given to children first.

“The conditions are terrible, and more people keep coming.”

On a beach in Beira, where the Red Cross estimated 90 of the city was damaged or destroyed, survivors clutching infants and bags disembarked from rescue boats beside a ship marooned on the sand by the storm, and began receiving Red Cross help.

A man looks on atop his house after Cyclone Idai in Buzi district outside Beira, Mozambique, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

A man looks on atop his house after Cyclone Idai in Buzi district outside Beira, Mozambique, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“CONDITIONS TERRIBLE”

In Zimbabwe’s Coppa Rusitu Valley, a township in Chimanimani, near the Mozambican border, hundreds of homes were flattened by large rocks and mudslide from a nearby mountain, burying some residents, who never stood a chance as the cyclone unleashed its fury at night when most were sleeping.

Relatives and rescuers were digging through the debris, hoping to find bodies, but some of the rocks were so big they need blasting, a Reuters witness said. Most people lost relatives, workmates or friends in the township, which also housed government workers, including police.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Thursday night said he had come face to face with horrific accounts of people grieving the loss of family and friends in Chimanimani.

Some survivors have taken refuge at churches and centers offering temporary shelter as they deal with the trauma of their losses while private citizens, international aid agencies and the government rushed humanitarian aid to affected areas.

Energy Minister Joram Gumbo said the pipeline bringing fuel from Beira had not been affected by the cyclone but the docking terminals at Beira port had been damaged.

He said Zimbabwe had 62 days supply of petrol and 32 days for diesel, which is in short supply and has led to long queues in the capital. In Mutare city, near Mozambique, diesel shortages were worse, according to a Reuters witness.

A girl stops to look as a man walks past carrying luggage on his head after Cyclone Idai in Buzi district outside Beira, Mozambique, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

A girl stops to look as a man walks past carrying luggage on his head after Cyclone Idai in Buzi district outside Beira, Mozambique, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

FEW HELICOPTERS

In Beira, Saviano Abreu of the U.N. humanitarian arm OCHA, said the main problem with getting aid to relief camps outside of Beira is they could be reached only by helicopter, since floods had cut off roads, and helicopters were few.

Large parts of the city lacked running water, but everyone affected was getting 20 liters of water for washing, cooking and drinking.

Briefing his team late on Thursday night, Connor Hartnady, rescue operations task force leader for Rescue South Africa, said Beira residents were becoming fed up with shortages.

“There have been three security incidents today, all food related,” he told his team, without giving further details.

Commenting on Beira, U.N. humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said if people were desperate to get aid, that should be treated as part of the community response and not as a security matter.

“These are desperate people,” Laerke said. “I don’t think anybody would blame a desperate mother or father who have children who do not have clean water to drink or food to eat who grab it from wherever they find it in a shop.”

The storm’s rains caused the Buzi and Pungwe rivers, whose mouths are in the Beira area, to burst their banks.

Roads into Beira were cut off by the storm, and most of the city remains without power. The Red Cross has estimated 90 percent of the city was damaged or destroyed in the storm.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare, Philimon Bulawayo in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe,; Editing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng, Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean)

U.S. farmers face devastation following Midwest floods

U.S. farmers face devastation following Midwest floods

By Humeyra Pamuk, P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek

WINSLOW, Neb./CHICAGO (Reuters) – Midwestern farmers have been gambling they could ride out the U.S.-China trade war by storing their corn and soybeans anywhere they could – in bins, plastic tubes, in barns or even outside.

Now, the unthinkable has happened. Record floods have devastated a wide swath of the Farm Belt across Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and several other states. Early estimates of lost crops and livestock are approaching $1 billion in Nebraska alone. With more flooding expected, damages are expected to climb much higher for the region.

As river levels rose, spilling over levees and swallowing up townships, farmers watched helplessly as the waters consumed not only their fields but their stockpiles of grain, the one thing that can stand between them and financial ruin.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Tom Geisler, a farmer in Winslow, Nebraska, who said he lost two full storage bins of corn. “We had been depending on the income from our livestock, but now all of our feed is gone, so that is going to be even more difficult. We haven’t been making any money from our grain farming because of trade issues and low prices.”

The pain does not end there. As the waters began to recede in parts of Nebraska, the damage to the rural roads, bridges and rail lines was just beginning to emerge. This infrastructure is critical for the U.S. agricultural sector to move products from farms to processing plants and shipping hubs.

The damage to roads means it will be harder for trucks to deliver seed to farmers for the coming planting season, but in some areas, the flooding on fields will render them all-but-impossible to use.

The deluge is the latest blow for the Farm Belt, which has faced several crises in the last five years, as farm incomes have fallen by more than 50 percent due to a global grain glut. President Donald Trump’s trade policies cut off exports of soybeans and other products, making the situation worse.

Soybeans were the single most valuable U.S. agricultural export crop and until the trade war, China bought $12 billion worth a year from American farmers. But Chinese tariffs have almost halted the trade, leaving farmers with crops they are struggling to sell for a profit.

CORN AND SOYBEANS DESTROYED

As prices plummeted last year amid the ongoing trade fight, growers, faced with selling crops at a loss, stuffed a historic volume of grain into winding plastic tubes and steel bins. Some cash-strapped families piled crops inside their barns or outside on the ground.

Farmers say they are now finding storage bags torn and bins burst open, grain washed away or contaminated. Jeff Jorgenson, a farmer and regional director for the Iowa Soybean Association, said he has seen at least a dozen bins that burst after grains swelled when they became wet.

Under U.S. Food and Drug Administration policy, flood-soaked grain is considered adulterated and must be destroyed, according to Iowa State University.

Some farmers had been waiting for corn prices to rise just 10 cents a bushel more before making sales, which would earn them a few extra thousand dollars, Jorgenson said.

“That’s the toughest pill to swallow,” Jorgenson said. “This could end their career of farming and the legacy of the family farm.”

As of Dec. 1, producers in states with flooding – including South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois – had 6.75 billion bushels of corn, soybeans and wheat stored on their farms – 38 percent of the total U.S. supplies available at that time, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Iowa suffered at least $150 million in damage to agricultural buildings and machinery, and 100,000 acres of farmland are under water, said Keely Coppess, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Jorgenson surveyed more than two dozen local farmers to assess the damage and tallied about 1.25 million bushels of corn and 390,000 bushels of soybeans lost just in Fremont County, Iowa, worth an estimated $7.3 million.

EXTENT OF DAMAGE UNCLEAR

The record flooding has killed at least four people in the Midwest and left one person missing. The extent of damage is unknown as meteorologists expect more flooding in the coming weeks.

Early estimates put flood damage at $400 million in losses for Nebraska’s cow-calf industry and another $440 million in crop losses, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts told a news conference on Wednesday.

“The water came so fast,” said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. “We know our farmers didn’t have enough time to move all the cattle or empty all their grain bins.”

Multiple washouts and high water on BNSF Railway Co’s main lines have caused major disruption across parts of the Midwest, the company warned on its website. The flooding also has disrupted part of Hormel Foods Corp’s supply chain, the company told Reuters.

The roads are so bad that Nebraska’s National Guard on Wednesday will push hay out of a military helicopter to feed cattle in Colfax County stranded by floodwaters, Major General Daryl Bohac said. It is the first time in at least half a century that such an airdrop has been conducted, he said.

Cattle carcasses have been found tangled in debris or rotting in trees, while tractors and other expensive machinery are stuck in mud, unable to be moved. At Geisler’s farm in Winslow, Nebraska, two trucks and a tractor were seen buried in mud in wooden barns where water pooled.

“We should have been getting into planting for next season, but now all of our equipment is flooded and it’s going to take at least three to four weeks to bring back that equipment into shape,” said Geisler.

(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek in Chicago and Humeyra Pamuk in Winslow, Nebraska; Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen and Mark Weinraub in Chicago; Editing by David Gaffen and Matthew Lewis)

Rescue teams race to save hundreds trapped by Mozambique cyclone

People return to Praia Nova Village neighborhood following Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, March 17, 2019. Josh Estey/Care International via REUTERS

By Manuel Mucari and MacDonald Dzirutwe

MAPUTO/HARARE (Reuters) – Aid workers scrambled to save hundreds trapped by floods around the Mozambican port city of Beira on Wednesday, after a powerful cyclone killed hundreds of people and left a trail of destruction across swathes of southeast Africa.

Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique’s port city of Beira with winds of up to 170 kph (105 mph) last Thursday, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and putting the lives of millions at risk.

The aftermath of the Cyclone Idai is pictured in Beira, Mozambique, March 17, 2019. Josh Estey/Care International via REUTERS

The aftermath of the Cyclone Idai is pictured in Beira, Mozambique, March 17, 2019. Josh Estey/Care International via REUTERS

At least 200 people have died in Mozambique and 98 in Zimbabwe, but the death toll is likely to rise as rescuers are still finding bodies.

Hundreds were clinging onto trees or roofs, waiting for rescue teams. Roads in and around Beira were swamped and heavy rain was continuing to fall, complicating rescue efforts and meaning that aid had to be flown in by helicopter or plane.

The floods have also brought the threat of waterborne diseases.

“The first thing you see when you arrive is destruction, and a lot of water,” Get Verdonck, an emergency coordinator with the aid group Doctors Without Borders, said from Beira. “People are using well water with no chlorination, and that water is unlikely to be clean, … pneumonia and other respiratory diseases are going to be a problem.”

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has declared three days of national mourning starting on Wednesday and has said the eventual death toll from the cyclone and ensuing floods could rise to more than 1,000.

On Tuesday, rescuers saved 167 people around Beira with the help of South African Air Force helicopters. The South African shipping firm Grindrod said it would send a container ship with relief supplies from Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, to Beira.

In the eastern Zimbabwe, grieving families rushed to bury their dead because the cyclone had knocked out power supplies and put mortuaries out of action.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on a visit to the town of Chimanimani that his government would ensure houses were built with stronger materials in future. In rural Zimbabwe, many people cannot afford cement to build their houses, leaving them vulnerable to torrential rain and wind.

Malawi has not released details of casualties from the storm, which weakened as it moved further inland. More than 50 people had already died in floods the week before the cyclone hit.

Damage from the Cyclone Idai is seen in Beira, Mozambique, March 19, 2019. International Federation Of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies via REUTERS

Damage from the Cyclone Idai is seen in Beira, Mozambique, March 19, 2019. International Federation Of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies via REUTERS

MOURNING AND DEVASTATION

Drone footage showed residents of a shantytown in Beira still picking through wreckage almost a week after the storm hit and trying to drag plastic sheeting over their ruined homes.

The film, released by the Red Cross, showed the settlement pockmarked with empty plots where whole buildings had been blown off their foundations.

“Great floods have sowed mourning and devastation in various areas of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi,” Pope Francis said on Wednesday. “I express my pain and closeness to those dear people.”

Aid groups said they were struggling to reach many survivors trapped in remote areas of Mozambique where villages were submerged. The European Union’s Earth Observation Programme said on Tuesday that an area of 394 sq km (152 sq miles) was flooded.

The U.N. children’s fund, UNICEF, estimated that 260,000 children were at risk from the devastation.

Beira, a low-lying city of 500,000 people, is home to Mozambique’s second-largest port and serves as a gateway to landlocked countries in the region.

Both Mozambique and Zimbabwe have declared states of emergency in some areas. The cyclone knocked out Mozambican electricity exports to South Africa, exacerbating power cuts that are straining businesses in Africa’s most industrialized economy.

The EU has said it will provide initial emergency aid of 3.5 million euros ($4.0 million) to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe for emergency shelters, hygiene, sanitation and healthcare. Britain and the United Arab Emirates have also pledged aid.

(Additional reporting by Frank Phiri in Blantyre, Catarina Demony in Lisbon and Philip Pullella in Rome; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Kevin Liffey)